Opening Statements

Author! Author!

Great books mean great decisions

Posted Jun 1, 2008 8:00 AM CDT
By Richard Brust

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College lit majors, review that book report you did on 1984, and brush up on your Shakespeare. It could help you brief your next federal case.

University of Chicago assistant law professor M. Todd Henderson searched federal appellate and U.S. Supreme Court opinions for citations to the great works. A student of the law and literature movement, Henderson chose literary passages that gave a decision emotional heft, discounting passing comments and references to an author’s legal problems—for example, James Joyce’s censorship battles.

In his essay, “Citing Fiction,” in the winter 2008 edition of The Green Bag, Henderson lists the most frequently quoted writers. So take notes. Oh, and don’t just rely on the CliffsNotes—the judge will be grading you.

George Orwell (35 citations)

“The black-mustachio’d face gazed down from every commanding corner. There was one on the house front immediately opposite. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption said.”

• From: 1984

• Cited in: Florida v. Riley, 488 U.S. 445 (1989)

Franz Kafka (25)

“Where was the judge whom he had never seen? Where was the high court, to which he had never penetrated?”

• From: The Trial

• Cited in: U.S. v. Canady, 126 F.3d 352 (2d Cir. 1997)

John Milton (11)

“If [the censor] be of such worth as behooves him, there cannot be a more tedious and unpleasing journey-work, a greater loss of time levied upon his head, than to be made the perpetual reader of unchosen books and pamphlets. ... We may easily foresee what kind of licensers we are to expect hereafter, either ignorant, imperious and remiss, or basely pecuniary.”

• From: Areopagitica

• Cited in: Times Film Corp. v. City of Chicago, 365 U.S. 43 (1961)

Homer (11)

“Then I witnessed the torture of Sisyphus, as he wrestled with a huge rock with both hands. Bracing himself and thrusting with hands and feet he pushed the boulder uphill to the top. But every time, as he was about to send it toppling over the crest, its sheer weight turned it back, and once again towards the plain the pitiless rock rolled down. So once more he had to wrestle with the thing and push it up, while the sweat poured from his limbs and the dust rose high above his head.”

• From: The Odyssey

• Cited in: City of Carmel-by-the-Sea v. U.S. Dept. of Transporta­tion, 123 F.3d 1142 (9th Cir. 1997)

John Donne (9)

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; ... any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

• From: Devotions XVII

• Cited in: Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727 (1972)

Robert Bolt (9)

“The law, Roper, the law. I know what’s legal, not what’s right. And I’ll stick to what’s legal.”

• From: A Man for All Seasons

• Cited in: Weinberger v. Romero-Barcelo, 456 U.S. 305 (1982)

Albert Camus (8)

“The truth is that in an atomic age we kill as we did in the age of steelyards. ... Science, which has taught us too much about killing, could at least teach us to kill decently.”

• From: Reflections on the Guillotine

• Cited in: Campbell v. Wood, 18 F.3d 662 (9th Cir. 1994)

William Shakespeare (7)

“Then call them to our presence; face to face,/And frowning brow to brow, ourselves will hear/The accuser and the accused freely speak.”

•From: Richard II

•Cited in: Coy v. Iowa, 487 U.S. 1012 (1988)

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